They were teammates at Borgia and at Post 218.
Now, Tony Helfrich and Grant Eckelkamp are trying to become teammates once again at Rockhurst University.
The Borgia graduates committed to play this summer with Rockhurst. Helfrich signed with the school while Eckelkamp has been granted preferred walk-on status.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Helfrich said. “When I first heard the offer, I was trying to keep it cool, but it was pretty tough to do. I’ll admit that.”
Eckelkamp’s situation worked out during the summer as well.
“I’m excited to play. I’m going to be a preferred walk-on, so I’m not going to get a scholarship,” Eckelkamp said. “That will make me work harder to get money for the future.”
And the pair will be roommates in Kansas City.
“It will be fun rooming with Tony,” Eckelkamp said. “It will be a good time. It will bring some comfort to playing there. We have shared experiences and hopefully build from that and win some ballgames there.”
Both players were key cogs in very successful teams. They won state titles as members of the Post 218 Senior Legion team last summer and led Borgia to the cusp of an upset against eventual Class 4 state champion Westminster Christian Academy in the district finals.
Helfrich tossed a gem against Westminster for six innings before the eventual state champion rallied to win the contest.
Former Major League pitcher Andy Benes, a coach with Westminster, pulled Helfrich aside after the game.
“He just said he was in tears for how hard I worked and how it had to end up like that,” Helfrich said. “He told me to keep my head up and have some confidence. He said every pitcher goes through rough times. He said he wanted to help me and gave me his number. He asked me if I wanted him to contact any schools.”
Soon after that, attention in Helfrich picked up considerably.
“I would like to think Andy Benes was helping out but he said he hadn’t contacted anybody,” Helfrich said. “I guess it was just the schools started to recognize and hear about how I did during the season and in the last game.”
Helfrich had a dominant high school season, going 4-1 with a 0.93 ERA over 45 innings. He allowed 31 hits and seven walks while striking out 52 batters.
“I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life,” Helfrich said. “We really came together as a team. We started out on top and kept improving. We showed everyone what kind of potential we had in the last game. Even though it didn’t go our way, we showed everyone the type of team we could be. I think the state championship game was played at Ronsick Field.”
Helfrich also batted .348 and played outfield when he wasn’t pitching. But Borgia’s leading hitter for the season was the leadoff shortstop, Eckelkamp.
“My senior year was just awesome,” Eckelkamp said. “Giving Westminster a run for their money was one of the best moments I had at Borgia. Winning the Four Rivers Tournament was pretty big because I didn’t know what kind of team we had. After that, I knew we had something special.”
Both were key players on the 2012 Washington Post 218 Senior Legion team which won the state championship.
“Definitely winning state last year and going to New Orleans was one of my favorite memories,” Eckelkamp said. “That was a good time.”
“That team also was great,” Tony said. “That was one of the best teams talent-wise I’ve ever played on. Winning state and going to Louisiana was a great experience for all of us.”
While the 2013 Post 218 team fell in the Zone Tournament championship game to Jefferson City, both had a great run with summer teams.
Eckelkamp closed out as one of Washington’s top batters and he found other ways to get on base. He was hit by pitches 23 times this season.
“I just like to get on base,” Eckelkamp said. “That’s what a leadoff guy is supposed to do. Maybe it provides a little spark for our guys. You’ve got to be mentally tough and just get on base. I wink at them every once in a while. Maybe that makes them throw at me!”
Helfrich was shut down due to an elbow injury, but still filled a role while playing outfield for Post 218.
“This year, we didn’t lose many people,” Helfrich said. “That’s a great thing. We had a great record and great chemistry. We had more pitchers coming back and that’s great to have.”
Helfrich came up to the varsity team at Borgia during another district run. As a sophomore, he helped the Knights win a Class 3 district title.
“That was quite the experience getting pulled up my sophomore year,” Helfrich said. “When I got to start my first game and I stayed up the rest of the season, it was incredible. Seeing how far we got that year made it even more special.”
Helfrich also saw action on the football field for the Knights and was a key member of Borgia’s 2011 team which went 12-1.
“Going 12-1 my junior year was a highlight,” Helfrich said. “I think we disappointed some people this past season (going 4-6). We had all of the potential but we just couldn’t live up to it. I have no regret playing. It was such a great experience playing football all four years.”
Eckelkamp sees his role at Rockhurst as playing in the middle infield. Helfrich hopes to pitch.
“I would like to study engineering or pre-med,” Eckelkamp said. “I’m still trying to decide between those two.”
Helfrich indicated he hasn’t made up his mind what to study yet.
“Right now, I want to pitch,” Helfrich said. “I don’t know what they want me to do. I don’t know what I want to study yet, but I’ll figure that out in the next couple of years.”
Both players acknowledged many others who have helped them over the years.
“None of this would have been possible without some of my grade school coaches like Coach Mauntel, my dad and my siblings,” Helfrich said. “They were always there for me to play catch with. It goes to show you that with hard work, you can always be better. I would like to thank my family and all of my teammates along the way. I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without them.”
“I want to thank all of my coaches and my parents for getting me this far,” Grant said. “Hopefully I can have a good year in college.”